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Bristol academic explores the secret lives of four, five and six-year-olds for new documentary

Professor Paul Howard-Jones and Dr Elizabeth Kilbey during the filming of The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds.

Professor Paul Howard-Jones and Dr Elizabeth Kilbey during the filming of The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds.

Press release issued: 2 November 2015

An academic from the University of Bristol will feature in the return of a popular Channel 4 documentary tomorrow [3 November], providing a unique insight into the lives of four, five and six-year-olds.

The observational documentary returns as a seven-part series, which sees more than 50 children coming to a specially rigged school, where they meet each other for the first time, make friends, play together – sometimes harmoniously, sometimes less so – and learn skills that will stay with them forever.

The series covers the ages between four and six – one of the most crucial periods in a child’s development, in which they cross the threshold from family life into the social arena of school, and when the tools of social interaction they learn can lay the foundations for the relationships they will form right across their adult lives.

This time, it takes place under the watchful eyes of three leading scientists: educational neuroscientist Professor Paul Howard-Jones from the University of Bristol; developmental psychologist Dr Sam Wass, from the MCR Cognition & Brain Unit, Cambridge; and consultant clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, from Oxleas NHS Trust.  

The close observation of children’s interactions in a school setting allows the experts to understand critical events from the perspective of the children themselves. The experts will observe and comment on the development of key social skills, such as empathy, emotional regulation, and morality, and will attempt to reveal how individual personalities and skills sets are formed.

Professor Howard-Jones said: “I’m grateful to the Wellcome Trust for inspiring and supporting this new approach to using scientists in documentary film-making. We were embedded in the process of film-making, inputting during production meetings and, for all the time the children were on site, independently following the conversations we were interested in as researchers.

“Being able to witness young children developing their social skills and friendships in this unique way has been a fantastic opportunity and privilege. The making of these films has also collected a vast amount of data beyond that which is to be broadcast. We’re hopeful researchers at the University of Bristol will be able to use this data to derive news insights about how young children develop and learn.”


Further information

You can read a full interview with Professor Howard-Jones about the series on the Channel 4 website.

The first episode of The Secret Life of Four-year-olds will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 8pm on Tuesday 3 November 2015.

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